Cornell University Employs New Digital Technology to Produce Custom Course Packs and Scholarly Publishing

T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), March 2001 | Go to article overview
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Cornell University Employs New Digital Technology to Produce Custom Course Packs and Scholarly Publishing


Customized, on-demand publishing of course packs and other scholarly materials has been more theory than reality for most institutions. Until now, it has been difficult to achieve the quality demanded by educators, and updating custom-published texts has been difficult and time-consuming.

Such hurdles are finally being overcome, thanks to the progress of the custom publishing solution employed at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Some 21 percent of its classes are now using custom course packs instead of, or along with, traditional textbooks. Each course pack is a collection of materials assembled by the professor that might include published articles, selected chapters from several different textbooks, and essays or illustrations from various sources. Course packs range from 100 to 1,200 pages.

"The educational market continues to create and consume huge volumes of printed material. Now, however, many of these materials are being customized to a particular class or audience and are being produced on an as-needed basis," explains Richard W. McDaniel, associate vice president of campus and business services, and a leader in the field of custom course packs. Cornell has been an active participant in the technological evolution of custom publishing. It started with a system that involved copying course packs and scanning them into a huge master digital document, and more recently, the system has allowed users to link multiple articles together.

On-Demand System Provides High Throughput, Improved Quality

In April 2000, Cornell implemented a system from Danka Office Imaging that includes Danka D-Publisher software along with a Heidelberg Digimaster 9110 imaging system, a high-end, high-speed digital printer. This system has become a central element of the Cornell print shop. In August alone, Cornell produced 2.7 million impressions of customized course packs for the fall semester on the system. "This publishing system is a workhorse. It's extremely fast and extremely reliable. We can run it for 24 hours straight during peak periods," notes Thomas Romantic, director of wholesale operations and support services for Cornell Business Services. It is rated for speeds of 110 document images per minute. The 9110 system has also reduced production time by speeding the raster image processing (RIP) that takes place prior to printing. It has trimmed RIP times for printing course packs from more than 30 minutes to just two or three minutes, according to Project Manager Kim Barrett.

Romantic adds that the system produces the professional image quality that universities require. "The image quality from the print engine is excellent. Some of the course packs include photographs, and the grayscale reproduction and detail in fine lines are the best I have ever seen on a custom-publishing system. These course packs are compiled from a variety of documents, but the Digimaster system creates a final book that we are proud to make available to students and faculty."

Software Enhances Flexibility, Enables Reach to Internet

D-Publisher software replaces a previous-generation software package at Cornell. One of the core applications of D-Publisher, which is licensed from NetPaper.com, allows professors to use the Internet to access and compile articles and other materials for their course packs. Both are new additions to the custom publishing infrastructure at Cornell. D-Publisher software will soon have the capability to access a database that includes five of the seven largest educational publishers.

With Cornell's previous system, professors would conduct their own research and physically assemble an entire course pack in hard copy, then submit it for reproduction. With D-Publisher's links to multiple educational publishers, professors will be able to search for appropriate articles on the Internet, then link those articles to their own course packs electronically. D-Publisher then tracks the royalty fees associated with using the articles and assesses the fees based on the number of copies printed.

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Cornell University Employs New Digital Technology to Produce Custom Course Packs and Scholarly Publishing
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